There was apparently some confusion last week about whether or not Microsoft supported a bill in Washington that would protect gay rights there. CEO Steve Ballmer cleared the air in an e-mail to employees.
Then Robert Scoble, who is quickly moving beyond global blogging champion and into the realm of attention whoring, posted a response telling Ballmer that his response was half-assed. I totally disagree.
I have a number of gay friends and acquaintances. I've gone to bat as an advocate of these kinds of issues for years. I have the same personal position that I did ten years ago: Discrimination against homosexuals is not any better than racial or sex discrimination. That's basic human respect, and key to living in an increasingly smaller world.
However, Ballmer made the right choice. In a public company the size of Microsoft, you don't start picking battles on an issue that has already split the country down the middle (to say nothing of its employees, who likely follow a similar demographic). That's irresponsible to the shareholders. If you do something that could potentially put off half of your customers, you have no business running a company that size.
If I've learned anything since my college days, it's that you can create meaningful change by working the system, not just standing up in a crowd and pissing people off. While the latter can get you headlines and is exciting, in a lot of cases it just makes some people's position on a divisive issue that much more entrenched. There's a time and place. A wise leader knows the difference and can make the right decision sans chest thumping.
I've pushed my political views on my sites before, but those are businesses that affect only me. If I lose "customers," so what, I wasn't getting rich in the first place, and I have no one else to be held accountable too. That's a lot different than a company worth billions of dollars.